Star Jones wears many hatsseemingly effortlessly. She is a respected attorney, former New York City prosecutor, entrepreneur, businesswoman, philanthropist, best-selling author, and former star of ABC's The View. The role closest to her heart, however, is the one she regularly carries out as president of the National Association of Professional Women ( NAPW ) and Professional Diversity Network ( PDN ).
NAPW is the largest, most-recognized networking organization for professional women in the country, with more than 700,000 members spanning virtually every industry and profession and more than 200 operating Local Chapters. PDN is a leader in business diversity recruiting, networking and professional development for women, minorities, veterans, LGBT and disabled persons nationally.
"For me, there is no workplace issue that matters as much as 'equal pay for equal work.' Let's face it, when women succeed, our families succeed and America succeeds," Jones said. "Women compose nearly half of the American workforceyet, according to the latest U.S. Census statistics, on average, full-time working women still earn 77-80 cents to every dollar earned by men. And, that's an outrage!
"Additionally, women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households but are bringing home 20-23 percent less than their male counterpartswhich means less for families' every day needs, less for investments in our children's futures, and, when added over a lifetime of work, substantially less for retirement. And the pay gap is significantly greater for women of color, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latinas earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by white males. And that's an even bigger outrage."
Jones' outrage has kept the internal fire burning for change.
"The demographics of the U.S. population continue to shift toward a minority majority, but as a nation we are still grappling with salary disparity between men and women performing the same jobs; a labor force in which the level of participation and inclusion among ethnic groups is disproportionate to their representation in the overall population; the slow pace of fully integrating disabled workers and members of the LGBT community into the workforce; and providing opportunities for veterans to transition from military service to the civilian workforce," Jones said. "I am personally passionate about each of these areas, and appreciate the platform my leadership role at PDN and NAPW affords me to address these issues."
PDN is the only diversity-specific resource that partners with leading organizations like the National Hispanic MBA Association, National Association of Black Attorneys, NAACP, National Urban League, Veteran, and LGBT organizations.
"When I met and connected with the women of NAPW three years ago and saw the amazing growth potential of the organization, I just had to be involved. I love networking and connecting with other like-minded professional women who are dedicated to each other's collective success, so I started developing NAPW's programs, products and services and then took on more leadership responsibilities. Clearly the mission of PDN and NAPW connect seamlessly to my goals and core values," Jones explained. "I'm so proud to have been intricately involved in helping put the merger of PDN and NAPW together and seeing it through to completion. My professional reputation as a legal authority and advocate for women and diversity and inclusion strengthens and increases my credibility when using my access to a worldwide media platform to redefine Diversity in America."
Jones' perspectives on success and brand recognition have served her well, putting her at the top of the heap. As an African-American woman, does she feel any pressure to stay there?
"Over the years, I've built a strong portfolio of professional experiencefrom attorney, news correspondent and talk show host to producer, fashion designer, and businesswoman. The key for me has always been maintaining a consistent personal brand that connects organically and authentically with my professional brand. So no, I don't feel any pressure being an African-American woman who is at the top of her field. I have always worked hard and prepared to be successful in whatever endeavor or career I chose," she said. "It is a privilege, honor and humbling experience to be one of the youngest among a small circle of African-American women to lead a public company. I know I'm fortunate to be able to make a living doing something that I am so fiercely passionate aboutdiversity and women's empowerment. I never want to take for granted how rare it is that I wake up each morning and know for certain that each day I will play a part in changing a woman's life for the better by providing her with employment, opportunity and access."
One subject of particular interest to Jones: LGBT workplace rights.
"We have more progress to make across the board when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I'm happy to see that more corporations are recognizing the value diverse employees bring to their companies and the bottom line, and providing an inclusive workplace. As of April 2013, of Fortune 500 companies, 88 percent have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. Among the other benefits provided, 91 percent include protection for sexual orientation; 61 percent include gender identity protection; 67 percent include domestic partner health benefits; and 28 percent include transgender health-inclusive benefits," she said.
"Still, there is room for improvement," Jones said. "Many LGBT community members remain 'closeted' to avoid the real or perceived impact their sexual orientation may have on their employment and career advancement. What is lacking is federal legislation that addresses LGBT workplace equality.
"For 40 years, Congress has considered various pieces of legislation meant to address LGBT workplace equality. In November 2013, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ( ENDA ) with strong bipartisan support. However, the House has failed to act. There is progress at the state and local level. Since 2011, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and Nevada have added gender identity to their existing employment non-discrimination laws.
"Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia have inclusive non-discrimination laws, and over 200 cities and countiesfrom small towns like Bozeman, Montana and Vicco, Kentucky to large cities like Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Georgiaprohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Nine of the 10 most populous cities in the country already have these protections in place."
PDN's Hire AdvantEDGE program is currently being used to specifically help employers find qualified, diverse professional candidates.
"Diversifying the workforce is a tough job. Employers must engage the right partner to recruit qualified diverse candidates," Jones said. "It's as much art as it is science. And that's where PDN comes in.
"PDN is at the forefront of providing state-of-the-art software and online resources for diverse professional job seekers, as well as employers committed to building a diverse workforce. We match diverse talent with employers looking to hire diverse candidates. Corporations purchase the tool and provide the baseline requirements to filter potential candidates. PDN matches diverse candidates to the qualifications list provided by the prospective employer, and prepares a report with job candidates that best meet their baseline requirements.
"It's also important to remember that diversity isn't just about race. It includes women, veterans, disabled persons, and professionals in the LGBT community. That's my charge at PDNto help all Americans find good paying jobs."
Approximately 4 million-plus registered job seekers are offered a number of benefits, including RésunatePDN's résumé optimization tool that acts as an online portal to more than 100,000 job listings. Various networking opportunities are also in abundance through the program.
The NAPW National Networking Summit will take place June 26 in Chicago.
"We have relaunched our regional networking events as a three-city National Networking Summit Series. The first stop in the series is Chicago's Navy PierLakeview Terraceon Friday, June 26, followed by Los Angeles on Aug. 7 and New York City on Nov. 6," Jones said. "The all-day event includes unlimited networking opportunities for the attendees, 20-minute training/educational sessions; an inspiring 'Whole Woman Power Panel' of accomplished businesswomen and a Professional Diversity Career Fair. Attendees will walk away with new contacts to continue to build their professional network; tips and advice a number of workplace issues and a renewed focus on advancing their career and empowering their lives."
Chicago will serve as a reunion of sorts for Jones.
"Our PDN headquarters is in Chicago, so I spend a great deal of time there. I'm a huge fan of Mediterranean food so you'll often see me in Greektown. Hyde Park is my favorite part of town and, for fun, I don't ever miss the chance to go by Jokes & Notes to laugh with the South Side neighborhood crowd," she said.
Jones has built a longstanding career on her own merit, but insists those behind her create their own paths.
"While it's flattering to know that someone would aim to follow my career path, I encourage young women to create their own path and to blaze their own trail. That saying, 'It takes a village to raise a child,' certainly rings true. For young women, that 'village' should consist of mentors, supporters and colleagues who can help them find their path and guide them to career success," she said.
As for another stint on television, the philanthropist basically said "Not so fast. "
"I am one of the few people who can say she had a successful run as a daily presence on television for 25 years," Jones said. "Today, that's not my focus. Oh, don't get me wrong, I still enjoy going on TV advocating for things I believe in, like heart-healthy living [Jones is a heart-disease survivor and National Volunteer for the American Heart Association], diversity and inclusion, gender equality and pay equity.
"However, helping women and diverse professionals build their network and find that perfect job, career path or networking connection is what brings me great joy today. I'm truly blessed in that, as my mother/grandmother so astutely proclaim: 'You are already Star Jones; no one can take that away from you, so we don't need to see your face on TV every day. Every once in a while is just fine.'"
And then, perhaps, she offered her 2016 presidential pick.
"Honestly, I didn't think I'd live to see the first African-American president. But, I did and he will serve two terms," she said. "No question I plan on working hard to see the first woman president elected in my lifetime!"
More information on the NAPW National Networking Summit June 26 in Chicago is available at chicagosummit.napw.com .